MGMT are back, a decade after their acclaimed debut Oracular Spectacular was released, and five years after their convoluted self-titled made its way onto the airwaves. After their initial success, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser barrel rolled into a neo-psychedelic space that alienated the majority of their followers. This, of course, would have been a respectable, admirable decision from the duo had they produced something half-decent in that case. No one expected 2010’s Congratulations, an album that left the fans who revelled in the hooks and fist-pumps of ‘Kids’ and ‘Time To Pretend’ abandoned in a pit of half-baked, self-indulgence that aspired to many things, but achieved few. Their self-titled follow up didn’t fare much better in the eyes of critics or casual listeners, and so after a five year break there were only two ways things could go: They would return to form with something tangible and satisfactory or they would continue down a path of aimless hubris. Unfortunately, we get the latter
It appears that MGMT have, for what it’s worth, at least tried to redeem themselves, if only slightly. The majority of this album’s tracks subside to a wayward neo-electronic/psychedelic realm that, while more focused than previously heard, still miss the mark on most occasions. “Welcome to the shit show” is something of an uttered premonition on opener ‘She Works Out Too Much’, a track which is, in short, nauseating. The introduction consists of off-kilter synth notes that feel forced and desperately “alternative”, creating a genuinely unpleasant listening experience from get-go. The severity of these synths subside as we delve further into the track but they are quickly replaced by an abundance of hollow ad-libs taken from a workout CD that appear to exist for no other reason than to cause cognitive dissonance.
It’s not all bad. ‘Me and Michael’ and ‘James’ offer some of the better sonic displays among the track listing, with the former offering a featherweight, plush cushion of pop that is almost reminiscent of their fantastic 2007 effort. The latter may not be as optimistic in sound but, with the vocals lowered an octave or two and all the frills removed, it possess an innately comforting property that guides the commentary of relationships to a soft landing. This is also one of the few instances in which MGMT’s irony takes a step back in order for sincerity to take centre stage, and therein lies the problem.
Instead of creating an album that contributed to an idea, an album that expressed something worthwhile, MGMT have fabricated a superfluous display of irony and self-indulgence. The globally negative impact of “the Internet” is a hotly debated topic at present – if not played out at this point – and MGMT have shown their stance on the subject with two tracks defined by disparaging comments about technological advancements. These “revelations” about technology and their ability to suck time away from us are too shallow to really divulge in and so, rather than contribute to the conversation, convey the same one dimensional faux-philosophical thoughts that appear in the posts your mum shares in Facebook after a glass of red.
It feels unfair for the duo to latch onto their outdated sarcasm and internalised bravado when so much more could have been done with this release. Even if we ignore their past efforts and allow Little Dark Age to stand as a single entity, it still fails to reach any discernible conclusion about anything at all. This release was meant to be something memorable, a release to reconcile their past, and unfortunately, it is not. Mitchell Goudie